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Those were the words of the Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice (“DoJ”) Antitrust Division after making public the extradition of Ms. Ullings, a Dutch citizen and former senior vice president of cargo sales and marketing for the airline Martinair (now part of KLM-Air France) to the United States.
In 2010, the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia accused Ms. Ullings for her alleged participation in an agreement to fix worldwide prices of air cargo.
According to the information published by the DoJ, between 2001 and 2006, Ms. Ullings allegedly participated in a conspiracy to eliminate competition in the air cargo market by fixing and coordinating certain prices and surcharges for freight shipments, such as fuel surcharges levied on customers in the US and elsewhere.
At the request from the DoJ, Interpol issued a worldwide arrest warrant (known as a “red notice”) for Ms. Ullings in November 2010. However, it was not until 2019 that the Italian police arrested Ms. Ullings in Sicily while she was visiting the island. At first, Ms. Ullings challenged her extradition before the Italian courts, but after the Appellate Court of Palermo ordered her extradition, she gave up on her appeal.
Ms. Ullings is now facing up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million under US law.
Along with Ms. Ullings, a total of 22 airlines and 20 of their executives have been accused in the DoJ’s investigation into air cargo price fixing. Over $1.8 billion in fines have been imposed thus far, and seven executives have been sentenced to prison. Meanwhile, the European Commission also conducted an investigation into the same industry that resulted in €776 million in fines for 11 airlines in a decission issued in 2017, after the General Court overturned a previous Commission decision on procedural grounds, without questioning the existence of the cartel (Case AT.39258 — Airfreight).
Ms. Ullings’s extradition is the second extradition of a foreign citizen to the US on charges exclusively related to the violation of antitrust regulations (the Sherman Act), following Germany’s extradition of Italian citizen Romano Pisciotti, which we discussed earlier on this blog.
According to the public information available (and even though the exact number is not known), dozens of individuals around the world could have fled from US justice on charges related to competition law violations. In fact, several Air France and Asiana Airlines executives have yet to appear in US courts on charges related to the same case for which Ms. Ullings has been arrested.
In addition to a bilateral extradition treaty, successful extradition of a suspect infractor of US antitrust laws also requires compliance with the principle of dual criminality, which dictates that the alleged conduct must be classified as a criminal violation in both countries. This raises an important debate because, even though there is a clear tendency towards criminalizing anti-competitive practices, there are still few countries in the world that currently treat antitrust infringements as criminal causes, and some of them have limited this possibility to certain conducts, such as those related to bid rigging. Also, countries often refuse to extradite their own nationals, either because it is prohibited under their domestic laws, as in the case of Australia, Germany, Brazil and Japan, or because they do not authorize extradition de facto.
Either way, this is yet another example of the DoJ’s firm resolve to chase and prosecute foreign nationals for competition law violations. Furthermore, the case clearly shows the wide array of mechanisms the DoJ can use to act beyond US borders, resorting to international extradition treaties and issuing global arrest warrants through Interpol, as we discussed recently here. Since 2009, 264 individuals have been sentenced to prison in the US for competition law violations, serving an average of 285 days behind bars in 2018.
The DoJ’s press release on the case can be found here.
This post is also available in: Español